Finding a Purpose in Life

May 14, 2015

It’s in the air!  (Or maybe it’s just suddenly on my radar!) Within the past 6 months or so, I’ve come across and read a half-dozen books centered on “life at the end of life” – the decisions we make, the goals we set, the values we cling to, the relationships we mend, and the stories we tell. These books include Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Scott Simon’s Unforgettable, Angelo Volandes’ The Conversation, Ira Byock’s Dying Well, Ai-Jen Poo’s The Age of Dignity, and David Brooks’ The Road to Character. I highly recommend all of them as worthwhile journeys in your reading time.

First, the meta-analysis: Is it just chance that these books are showing up on my desk at the same time, or is there a trend worth noting? I think it’s the latter. For so many years and for so many of our family members, we carved the path to death with no real plan for end-of-life care. As many of the authors above point out, the unspoken “dark side” of the practice of medicine in America is the firm conviction that we could (and should!) keep “patients” (in many cases, our family members) alive at any price. Medical schools teach how to save lives not how to shepherd patients through their demise. In our daily lives, we joke about death to insulate ourselves from our inherent anxieties and fear, and yet when we confront death we are typically wholly unprepared to deal with its many, many complexities.  And the demographic center of gravity that moves the needle in terms of our national focus, the Baby Boomer generation, is now dealing with the death of grandparents and parents, dying siblings, spouses, and friends, or confronting their own mortality. So, yes, it has become part of the national conversation–with many implications beyond a gold mine of interesting, provocative books.

A few common threads running through these books are the importance of palliative care, the critical discipline of caregiving, and storytelling as a pathway to shaping our lives. The frame for all of these, though, is about finding purpose. For example, while palliative care is about seeking relief from pain, symptoms, and stress associated with serious illness, it is also about taking the opportunity to find purpose through storytelling–about our past lives but also, and perhaps more importantly, about how we can find fulfillment and satisfaction with the days we have remaining. Another way of saying this is that many of these books encourage exploring the “why” of life in ways that we may not have done. This is an essential part of “the conversation” that these authors talk about, although I would extend it beyond end-of-life situations: we, as humans, need to learn to live. And yes, we also need to learn to die, but with ourselves in control rather than modern medicine.

On November 15, 2015, MPTF will host our inaugural “What Matters Most” summit, and this blog marks the beginning of a conversation we’d like to start with our entertainment community over the next six months leading up to the conference. (More news on the summit will be forthcoming on our website,

We plan to launch a new blog where we can all discuss these complicated and controversial issues and hope you will join the conversation.

We also plan to record conversations between industry members and/or their families in our What Matters Most studio on The Wasserman Campus in Woodland Hills and in the community. (Be on the lookout for announcements of when and where you might be able to memorialize your thoughts and feelings.) And finally, we will be introducing a traveling signing board that will allow you to  add to the discussion by completing this sentence: “What matters most to me is _______________.”

All in all, we hope this campaign causes everyone in the industry to think about and explore this important question (can there be a more important question for any of us?) and we look forward to having you share some ideas and feelings with us in these various forums.

About Bob Beitcher

Bob Beitcher is the President and CEO of the Motion Picture & Television Fund. He has been a senior executive in the entertainment industry for 30 years, having held leadership roles at Jim Henson Productions, Paramount Pictures, Panavision and MacAndrews & Forbes Media Group. Bob has been an MPTF board member since 2007. He became interim CEO in 2010 and was named permanent CEO in 2011.

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3 Responses to Finding a Purpose in Life

  1. Linda Swiller on May 14, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    I appreciate this post, as I am a medical social worker and I have seen both sides of trying to save people at all costs. Another book to add to the discussion is The Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware. It offers great perspective from those at the end of life.

    Additionally, folks need to be educated on options other than burial, such as body donation for science which is at no cost to the family.

    Thanks again for starting the conversation!

  2. Alexandra Moe on May 15, 2015 at 7:26 am

    I’m looking forward to this summit. Indeed the demographic center of gravity has shifted and forced more and more of us to deal with so many end of life issues (from reconciliation to financial planning), even while we are still raising our own children. It makes perfect sense that it would be the Boomer generation who will shift our attitude toward death and how we prepare for it. I also look forward to reading these books. Thanks for the recommendations.

  3. kathy swor on May 16, 2015 at 11:10 am

    I have only one personal request that matters most. If possible, due to enduring illness or disability, I want the right to choose my time of death. Calmly, carefully, lovingly. To say goodbye to family and friends while I am still me.

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